belonging . . . and the Scientific experience of life

(On the physicalized emotion and mythic meaning that forms our bodies and fashions our lives — as found in the work of Stanley Keleman)

The more the organism  perceives itself the less we have to debate about truth. Much becomes self-evident in the process of living.

—Stanley Keleman

Once every now and then, somebody stumbles upon an exposed piece of something ancient, digs away the dirt of centuries and finds a door, pushes it open, and there discovers a hidden or long-buried part of human life. Then our views are changed and a new experience of life begins to sprout. Sprouts, by the way, have a lot in common with life. They are both strong and delicate at the same time, and so all-of-one- piece that when you pick their tops you pull their roots; yet, tender and tiny as they are, they can survive most anything. Ever see a spread of sprouts get trampled on?

Whoever uncovers such a door and gets it open, is likely to continue going in and out of it to deepen the discovery and show others the way they can do the same. Stanley Keleman made just such a find and spends his life doing this very thing.

Born of immigrant parents from Hungary and Romania, Keleman grew up in Brooklyn. His athletic prowess won him scholarships to a number of colleges, but he nevertheless turned away from the path most others would have followed because…

…the answers he wanted were not to be found in the academy.…His suspicion…led him  to  the  out-of-the-way institutions.…His teachers were all outlaws who denied the orthodox wisdom of the day: problems of the mind were to be dealt with by psychiatrists and problems of the body by physicians, and never the twain would meet…*


 * Sam Keen, who interviewed Keleman for Psychology Today and has conducted seminars and workshops with him, writes: “Stanley Keleman is a celebrant of biological life. If we had Earthfathers, he might be one.” (From Keen’s Voices and Visions, New York: Harper & Row, 1974, p. 154)



To find what others have not found, one must seek as others have not sought. This is risky and most who try it end up finding nothing, getting lost, or both; but Keleman, ever one of the few, did not. Not only did he find what he was looking for, he made his way back as well. In this he brings to mind the central figure in those stories who hears an old legend about  some wondrous lost place, a  sun-filled valley all green and growing, where life thrives as nowhere else on earth, but which is far away and surrounded by perilous hazards and dangers nobody dares to venture into. The main character, remarkably  average in every respect except for believing the tale to be true, sets out to find the place and is thus seen by everyone else as foolhardy or downright crazy. Encountering hardships unmet before, and suffering  losses never to be regained, the seeker eventually becomes lost and ultimately reaches the limit where there is neither anything to go on with nor enough left to get back, where all that remains is the final act of giving in and collapsing—and, right then and there, discovers it is all just as the legend described. Of course the temptation is to remain in that idyllic place forever, and some versions of the story make it clear that those who leave can never return again; so, a few in the party elect to remain, but the strongest, those most whole, are willing to jeopardize all to make the long trek back.

What a stunning sameness there is between such stories and what it is to find the Self and reach one’s soul. The ones who do this keep it from then on, even if they come back. Of course the recountings are scoffed at by those who do not leave their habitat and habits of home, for they can only hear these as fanciful tales which do not relate to anything they know as real. Nevertheless, those who return have a look about them, a certain unaccountable manner, which the skeptical stay-at-homers cannot explain, and which, in moments when they are alone and have nothing else on their minds, visits them to make them wonder if maybe there is something to it after all.

Keleman has  these marks. His  words and  ways show that  he underwent an experience such as this, seeking what so many myths and legends are all about, finding that greater wholeness of life, and making it back to show others a way they can get there on their own.



In the early part of my life, I sought a source of authority, a reference, a philosophy from which I could find values and purpose that would serve as a conduit for my energies. Many of the values of my culture at that time were unacceptable to me. They were either mechanistic, low-level  materialism or a pathetic religious dogma that  was no longer historically applicable. My feeling of awe and curiosity about the beginnings of things and the nature of existence found no home either in the world of science or in the images of the Orient.

…I began to have a whole range of experiences, which encompassed past and present, ideas and needs, thinking and feeling, urges to act and urges to wait, archetypal pictures and emotions, inner and outer space and time.

…I felt at home in this world of many dimensions, but of course this being at home was fraught with anxieties. I thought at the time that the strangeness I experienced was due to the releasing of old conflicts and energies that I had to resolve and become accustomed to. This was in line with then contemporary psychological thought. It was not until much later that I knew that I had stepped outside the realm of our society’s knowledge. We had no tradition of living a bodily life. (S. Keleman, Somatic Reality, Berkeley: Center Press, 1979, pp. 9-11)

The lowly body, which even St. Francis had referred to as “Brother Ass”—was this piece of common clay able to lead anyone on to a fresher view or a more whole experience of life?

I  don’t  deal with  interpersonal relationships. I  deal with  your relationship to  yourself, with  helping you  into  more  intimate connection with yourself—by working directly with your body. The way your body is, is the way you are. That is my working principle.

System-oriented scientists who  need  to  see the  body  as  a machine,  in  terms  of  genetic code,  feedback systems, organ organization and biochemical systems with predictable programs, do not seem to grasp that life includes mechanics, that it is living that is structured—that structure is a living function. (S. Keleman, The Human Ground: Sexuality, Self and Survival, Berkeley: Center Press, 1975, p. 20)



If Keleman is right about prevalent attitudes toward the body, then what he is saying will strike most people as making far too much of much too little. We in the West especially have persisted for centuries in making a molehill out of the mountain which the body truly is; and a mountain of meanings is exactly what Stanley Keleman sees whenever he looks at somebody. He can discern more of an individual’s character in how one speaks, stands, sits, and moves about, than many psychologists ever glean from full batteries of personality instruments, projection tests, and other diagnostic tools and techniques. This is not  so much an indictment of the “state of the art” of psychology, as it is an indication of the significance of what Keleman is working with and his genius at doing so.

Who you are as you stand in front of me is who you are in the world, is how you perceive the world, is exactly how you have learned to deal with the world. Your past in hereditary  as well as personal terms is living at this present moment as you the body. (S. Keleman, The Human Ground, pp. 19-20)*

One might assume this boils down to saying: the mind and the body are one. But doesn’t everybody already know this? All it takes is a look around to see for yourself what everybody knows. You may feel foolish doing this because at first you will only notice what you regularly see; however it does not take very long to spot that split between thought and action for which  Homo sapiens is famous.  Do not stop with that, though, but go on to look a little more closely. Can you make out how the body not only shows the split, but gives signs of the particular kind of thinking and doing that makes it up? If you cannot, then try again a few times.


* Do not mistake Keleman’s approach for any of the popularized versions of the “body language” phenomenon which erroneously leads people to imagine that every gesture is infused with a general but latent meaning. The one who has studied this aspect of life more carefully and in greater detail than anyone else reminds us, “I must emphasize that no position, expression, or movement ever carries meaning in and of itself.” (R. L. Birdwhistell, Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970, pp. 44-50)



Paying attention to this very separation in yourself may provide some good clues of what to look for.

Practice looking at and seeing things this way for about one week and it will already start to make less and less sense to regard the “mind” as one matter and the “body” as another. And for all our sophisticated stressing of things psychosomatic, most of the dominant views of human life found in our culture still reduce mind or body to the one or the other. It is easy enough to say a unity exists between the two, but the final test of actually holding this view is to be able to see it right before one’s eyes. Keleman does this, genuinely joining both in an organismic whole wherein the body is always speaking its mind—and this view opens the door to a broader approach to and deeper participation in the reality of our living and dying.* This underlying view is evident in a string of unpolished sayings that show the man at work.

The How—we shall pursue this relentlessly. How do you do what you do physically? This will discourage all psychologizing, and will restore to  you the  experience of yourself…No self-formation is possible unless you  start  by  experiencing who  and  what  you are…Behavior is always predictable, but growth never is…“Feeling” is not a great answer in itself, but some have as their profession getting you to do this. What we think is a “thought” or “feeling” is, literally, something we are doing…All of the body methods—and I know  them  all—pride themselves in  non-verbalness. This  is contempt for humanness. We think words even if we don’t  speak them…Growth is never an explosion. It is a symphony of forces pushing you…Every contraction is a statement of making one’s boundaries somewhere and is an alternative to collapsing…Endings signal that which has outlived its usefulness and which we must change our relationship to. Conflict is not so much what is going on between you and me, but  has to  do with what is ending and beginning in either or both of us…The split called “body-mind” is nothing  more than  a perception of where the  charge is…Self-repeating and self-experiencing are both very important; they are the two ways. If you know this, you can tell when you are tending the garden and when you are seeing the stars…I am always unified. When am I not? When I describe myself as not unified. That is why I push for the How, because a person will begin to describe how connected he or she is. The real question is how are you connected to  yourself. (From  the  author’s  notes at  a  workshop given by Keleman in 1974.)


* Keleman’s growing number of books clearly reflect this overall description of his view, two of which bear the titles Your Body Speaks Its Mind, New York: Pocket Books, 1976, and Living Your Dying, New York: Random House/Bookworks, 1974.



Despite his conceptualizations, it is not accurate to portray Keleman as one who proffers intellectual views; quite the contrary, he labors and watches as people are enlivened in flesh and blood, muscle and bone— and that is where one must look to witness who this man is and to see what he really does. An instance of this, taken from the occasion on which he made the remarks just quoted, provides a sample of what it is like when Keleman steps into the central arena of his life and work.

It happened in the summer of 1974 during an intensive three-week course entitled  “The  Life of  the  Body” held at  the  University of California in Berkeley. About fifty-five people were there, coming mostly from the United States, with a few from Italy, France, Denmark, Germany, and Canada. There was the normal silence following the period of information and  illustration, and  most participants were privately sifting through what had been said and sorting out some piece that applied to them personally.

“Anyone have anything they want to say?” asked Stanley. Almost everyone lowered their heads and averted their eyes.

“I do” a woman said suddenly, as all eyes turned her way, happy to have something to do. She sat erect, a rather short woman of very solid build, probably in her fifties. Her medium-length dark blond hair was kept in place as neatly as she herself seemed to be. Her manner was friendly yet formal, like that of those who regularly deal with the public in a politely civil way.

“It’s a dream I just had” she continued. “I dreamed I was asleep and awoke to discover my house was burning. All I could think of was that I had to move fast to get my family out safely. I shouted to wake them, but as we ran out into the hall I saw the



front door was blocked by a wall of flame; so I looked around, and there at the other end of the hallway was a door I never noticed before; not a door in my real house, but it was in the dream. It was metal, and when I put my hands on it it burned them.”
Here she let her eyes take in some of the others in the group who by this time were all watching her every move, and then she looked back at Keleman.
     “You know,” she went on, gesturing toward the back of her neck and shoulders, which had a thickness that did not look muscular so much as tightly packed, “I’ve always felt like I had a lot of strength up in this part of my body; and in my dream I thought if I used all that to push the door as hard as I could, that I’d get it open and we’d all be safe. I tried, but it didn’t budge; then—I really ssshhhuuuuvvved it—and it opened. And so I got everybody out, but my dog died in the fire. So…it wasn’t what you’d call a happy dream, but somehow it was still a good dream.”
The dream needed no interpretation, but most leaders would have moved right then to do that. Everyone could hear it came out of a life where old ways were being sealed off and coming to an end; and finding new ways would require a considerable expenditure of strength if they were to keep loved ones linked together—and that in undertaking to make the passage, dear things would be lost forever. Keleman just sat there, eyeing the woman closely, letting the meaning of what she had presented start to leaven the whole lump of both her own life and also that of the group. When the significance had visibly seeped to the core, and thawed it, Stanley made his move.

     “Ever been to a revival?” he said surprisingly.

“Why, uhh, no.”

` “Oh” shrugged Keleman, as if about to leave the matter, but leaving instead an opportunity for the taking, which she lost no time in reaching for.

“But it is strange you should ask because…” she said, looking the way one does when some consciously concealed part of oneself has suddenly surfaced and is now capable of being seen and shown, “…because a hymn has been going through my head.”

“Would you like to sing it?” he invited.



“Oh  no.” she said so softly that only those close by could hear what she said. “Besides, I’m not sure I know the words.”

     “I bet he knows the words;” said Keleman, indicating the man next to her who happened to be a priest. “Go ahead and sing; he’ll join you.”

She started out in a very faint and quivery voice with the words: “Let us break bread together, Hallalu…”. All at once she stood up straight, and looking around in the manner of someone ready to do business, she continued: “What I’d like to do is really sing this.” Now her voice was starting to gather much more resonance and a touch of exuberance as she then turned to stand up in her chair, as if to say she wanted this to be seen by all the world. “…I mean sing it out loud; and just let everybody join in who wants to;…Let us break bread together, Hallalu. Let us break bread together, Hallalu.”

As her voice flowed like a fountain through her vocal chords, the sound coming deep from within her, she started to clap her hands—and others in the group began to do the same. Some whose English had not been able to keep up with the pace, and who had turned to others for a translation, now sensed what was happening, and most of them got on their feet to fully participate in what was now unfolding. When life intervenes this way, the only choice is to participate or to observe. There is no middle way.

Meanwhile, Stanley, who was standing and clapping at his seat, leaned over to better hear what one of the more brilliant intellectuals began to say: “Stanley,  that was beautiful. And the way you handled it when she…”

Interrupting without rudeness the laudatory comments being placed like a laurel wreath upon his head, Keleman said, still clapping, “God never therapizes—just  heals.” Then he turned and walked away.

The aim here is clear: to unite  as fully as possible with the realness of life. The effects of this are obviously therapeutic, but what is equally obvious is that  all this involves much more than  what is generally termed “therapy.” Keleman resists using this word as a label for what he does.



I don’t see what I do as therapy. I dislike the idea of fixing which the word “therapy” suggests.  It does not communicate what happens between me and people I work with. The words grounding, opening, and participating, connecting vital responsiveness, seem appropriate.* (S. Keleman, The Human Ground, p. 27)

     And what are we to call one who has such a goal and works in this way? In the Greece of Socrates’ time and for some centuries afterward, especially  at that  marvelous center of Greco-Roman learning which thrived at the Museum and Library in Alexandria, there is no doubt about it at all: Keleman would have been called a philosopher (a term he has used on occasions to refer to himself ). But that was when philosophy and science worked side by side and still spoke to one another. Part of this tradition survived in Europe up to the very end of the nineteenth century, though by that time it had come to use the word “science” more to describe itself.**

The one question science asks more than any other as it gazes upon the universe is How? How is such and such possible? How does this or that come to be? This is the very question Keleman most consistently asks of life and seeks to answer. How is life formed? How does it function? How does this person, or that one, come to be the particular being they are? It is only in the most genuinely dedicated scientists that one will find the zealous respect for “the natural order of things” that Keleman has.


*  When that formed, organismic whole  — that every human being is — is broken down into parts or reduced to some “problem” (or case), which is then  to  be “worked through” by means of a particular “therapeutic method”  in  order to  achieve an  “outcome” which has been somewhat arbitrarily defined as “healthy,” then those who split up both the process of therapy and the person of those involved in it (including that of the therapist) in this fashion, are likely to succeed only in dividing “therapists” into the-rapists instead.

**  At the end of the 19th century the German word for science, Wissenschaft, meant almost exactly what Plato and Aristotle meant by “philosophy.” Since then the meaning of both words has undergone a considerable change in which there is a mixture of both  gain and  loss (see Windelband’s  A  History  of Philosophy, I, New York: Harper Torch-books, 1958, pp. 1-2)



To experience life with the soul of a scientist is to be so convinced that part and whole belong together, that  one’s  life is given to  a continuing clarification of just how the two fit together and relate to one another. The  part and the whole of science, and the one and the many of philosophy, are closely related. To belong is “to be connected with in various relations” (OED). Belonging means fashioning one’s “more” into a scientific act and experience of life.

…we’re  part of an evolution toward a new subjectivity.  We are moving, as a culture, further and further away from the old scientific, distanced way of making objects of the world. We are moving toward more participation in it. (S. Keleman, Living Your Dying, pp. 139-40.)

Stanley Keleman is still on his most basic expedition: to make his way on to a new science of life itself.

*     *     *

Author, actor, playwright/composer, psychologist, philosopher, and Episcopal priest. Born in Nebraska on the Great Plains, where the American West begins. Enlisted in the Marine Corps upon graduating high school, with college and seminary following immediately thereafter. Active in the professions listed here. With the abiding emphasis being on both the modes of human becoming and the meaning individuals enact and embody as life unfolds up to one's very last breath.

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